, Volume 60, Issue 2, pp 145–178 | Cite as

Compositionality, Context, Categories and the Indeterminacy of Translation

  • Markus Werning


The doctrine that meanings are entitieswith a determinate and independent reality is often believed tohave been undermined by Quine's thought experiment of radicaltranslation, which results in an argument for the indeterminacy oftranslation. This paper argues to the contrary. Starting fromQuine's assumption that the meanings of observation sentences arestimulus meanings, i.e., set-theoretical constructions of neuronalstates uniquely determined by inter-subjectively observable facts,the paper shows that this meaning assignment, up to isomorphism,is uniquely extendable to all expressions that occur inobservation sentences. To do so, a theorem recently proven byHodges is used. To derive the conclusion, one only has to assumethat languages are compositional, abide by a generalized contextprinciple and by what I call the category principle. Theseassumptions originating in Frege and Husserl are coherent withQuine's overall position. It is concluded that Quine'snaturalistic approach does not justify scepticism with regard tomeaning, but should rather result in a view that affiliatessemantics with neuroscience.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Ajdukiewicz, K.: 1935, 'Die syntaktische Konnexität', Studia philosophica: commentarii Societatis Philosophicae Polonorum 1, 1-27.Google Scholar
  2. Bar-Hillel, Y.: 1950, 'On Syntactical Categories', Journal of Symbolic Logic 15, 1-16.Google Scholar
  3. Dummett, M.: 1981, Frege: Philosophy of Language, 2nd edn, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA.Google Scholar
  4. Frege, G.: 1884, Die Grundlagen der Arithmetik: eine logisch-mathematische Untersuchung über den Begriff der Zahl, M. & H. Marcus, Breslau.Google Scholar
  5. Frege, G.: 1976, 'Logische Untersuchungen. Dritter Teil. Gedankengefüge', in G. Patzig (ed.), Logische Untersuchungen, 2nd edn, Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen, pp. 72-91.Google Scholar
  6. Frege, G.: 1979, 'Logic in Mathematics', in H. Hermes, F. Kambartel, and F. Kaulbach (eds.), Gottlob Frege. Posthumous Writings, Basil Blackwell, Oxford, pp. 203-250.Google Scholar
  7. Frege, G.: 1980, 'Brief an Jourdain', in G. Gabriel, F. Kambartel, and C. Thiel (eds.), Gottlob Freges Briefwechsel mit D. Hilbert, E. Husserl, B. Russell, sowie ausgewählte Einzelbriefe Freges, Felix Meiner Verlag, Hamburg, pp. 110-112.Google Scholar
  8. Frege, G.: 1983, 'Booles rechnende Logik und die Begriffsschrift', in H. Hermes, F. Kambartel, and F. Kaulbach (eds.), Gottlob Frege. Nachgelassene Schriften, 2nd edn, Felix Meiner Verlag, Hamburg, pp. 9-52.Google Scholar
  9. Higginbotham, J.: 1985, 'On Semantics', Linguistic Inquiry 16, 547-593.Google Scholar
  10. Higginbotham, J.: 2003, 'On Compositionality and Its Consequences', unpublished manuscript.Google Scholar
  11. Hodges,W.: 2001, 'Formal Features of Compositionality', Journal of Logic, Language and Information 10, 7-28.Google Scholar
  12. Husserl, E.: 1970, Logical Investigations, Vol. II, Routledge & Kegan Paul, London.Google Scholar
  13. Janssen, T.: 1986, Foundations and Applications of Montague Grammar. Part 1: Philosophy, Framework, Computer Science, Centrum voorWiskunde en Informatica, Amsterdam.Google Scholar
  14. Janssen, T.: 1997, 'Compositionality', in J. van Benthem and A. ter Meulen (eds.), Handbook of Logic and Language, Elsevier, Amsterdam, pp. 417-473.Google Scholar
  15. Janssen, T.: 2001, 'Frege, Contextuality and Compositionality', Journal of Logic, Language and Information 10, 115-136.Google Scholar
  16. Johnston, M. and F. Busa: 1999, 'Qualia Structure and the Compositional Interpretation of Compounds', in E. Viegas (ed.), Breadth and Depth of Semantic Lexicons, Vol. 10 of Text, Speech and Technology, Kluwer, Dordrecht, pp. 167-188.Google Scholar
  17. Le?niewski, S.: 1929, 'Grundzüge eines neuen Systems der Grundlagen der Mathematik', Fundamenta Mathematicae 14, 1-81.Google Scholar
  18. Massey, G. J.: 1979, 'Indeterminacy, Inscrutability, and Ontological Relativity', in B. C. van Fraassen (ed.), Studies in Ontology, Vol. 9 of American Philosophical Quaterly/Monograph Series, Blackwell, Oxford, pp. 43-55.Google Scholar
  19. Milner, R.: 1977, 'Fully Abstract Models of the Typed Lambda-Calculus', Theoretical Computer Sciences 4, 1-22.Google Scholar
  20. Montague, R.: 1974, 'Universal Grammar', in R. H. Thomason (ed.), Formal Philosophy. Selected Papers of Richard Montague, Yale University Press, New Haven, pp. 222-246.Google Scholar
  21. Partee, B., A. ter Meulen, and R. Wall: 1990, Mathematical Methods in Linguistics, Kluwer Academic Publishers, Dordrecht.Google Scholar
  22. Pelletier, F. J.: 2000, 'Semantic Compositionality: Free Algebras and the Argument from Ambiguity', in M. Faller, S. Kaufmann, and M. Pauly (eds.), Formalizing the Dynamics of Information, CSLI Press, Stanford, CA, pp. 207-218.Google Scholar
  23. Pelletier, F. J.: 2001, 'Did Frege believe Frege's Principle?', Journal of Logic, Language and Information 10, 87-114.Google Scholar
  24. Pelletier, J.: 1984, 'Six Problems in 'Translational Equivalence”', Logique et Analyse 108, 423-434.Google Scholar
  25. Plotkin, G. D.: 1977, 'LCF Considered as a Programming Language', Theoretical Computer Sciences 5, 223-255.Google Scholar
  26. Putnam, H.: 1975, 'The Refutation of Conventionalism', in Mind, Language and Reality, Vol. 2 of Philosophical Papers, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp. 153-191.Google Scholar
  27. Putnam, H.: 1983, 'Models and Reality', in Realism and Reason, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp. 1-25.Google Scholar
  28. Putnam, H.: 1986, 'Meaning Holism', in L. Hahn and P. A. Schilpp (eds.), The Philosophy of W. V. Quine, Open Court, La Salle, IL, pp. 405-425.Google Scholar
  29. Quine, W. V.: 1960, Word and Object, MIT Press, Cambridge, MA.Google Scholar
  30. Quine, W. V.: 1961, 'Two Dogmas of Empiricism', in From a Logical Point of View, 2nd edn, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, pp. 20-46.Google Scholar
  31. Quine, W. V.: 1970, 'On the Reasons for the Indeterminacy of Translation', Journal of Philosophy 67, 178-183.Google Scholar
  32. Quine, W. V.: 1986, 'Reply to Hilary Putnam', in L. E. Hahn and P. A. Schilpp (eds.), The Philosophy of W. V. Quine, Open Court, La Salle, IL, pp. 427-431.Google Scholar
  33. Quine, W. V.: 1990, Pursuit of Truth, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA.Google Scholar
  34. Russell, B.: 1905, 'On Denonting', Mind 14, 479-493.Google Scholar
  35. Russell, B.: 1908, 'Mathematical Logic as Based on the Theory of Types', American Journal of Mathematics 30, 222-262.Google Scholar
  36. von Heusinger, K.: 1991, 'Kategoriale Unifikationsgrammatik', Technical Report 37, University of Konstanz, Konstanz.Google Scholar
  37. Werning, M.: 2003, 'Synchrony and Composition: Toward a Cognitive Architecture between Classicism and Connectionism', in B. Löwe, W. Malzkorn, and T. Räsch (eds.), Applications of Mathematical Logic in Philosophy and Linguistics, Trends in Logic, Kluwer, Dordrecht, pp. 261-278.Google Scholar
  38. Werning, M.: 2004b, 'The Temporal Dimension of Thought: Cortical Foundations of Predicative Representation', Synthese. Forthcoming.Google Scholar
  39. Wright, C.: 1997, 'The Indeterminacy of Translation', in B. Hale and C. Wright (eds.), A Companion to the Philosophy of Language, Blackwell, Oxford, pp. 397-426.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  • Markus Werning

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations